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House backs revamping election laws

Fri., March 8, 2013, midnight

Bulk of measures look to boost voter participation

OLYMPIA – Some would-be voters would have more time to register online, and younger ones could preregister as early as age 16 under election law changes approved Thursday by the Washington state House of Representatives.

Often by large margins, the House passed and sent to the Senate a handful of bills that supporters said will increase participation in elections.

They gave strong support to a bill that simplifies voter registration so new voters can sign up in person at a county elections office or online until 11 days before an election. Current law sets in-person registration at a week before the election and online registration at 29 days before.

While several supporters said the change will end confusion and give voters some consistency, state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, was concerned.

“This allows registration after the ballots have dropped,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The House also passed a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to sign a form when they get their driver’s license, so they’d be automatically added to rolls when they turn 18. The most common way to sign up voters is through so-called motor-voter registration.

“Let’s open the doors, not close them, to these young people,” said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane. “Let’s get them involved.”

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, argued the state should concentrate on getting young voters who are registered to participate in elections before expanding eligibility.

Other election law changes the House passed include a proposal to require two candidates in nonpartisan races to appear on the general election ballot even if one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Current law allows judges and other nonpartisan candidates who get a majority in a contested primary to be the only candidate for that office on the November ballot. Supporters said general elections attract more voters, and they should have more choices.

The House also voted to update payment to presidential electors, from the current $5 per diem and 10 cents per mile in travel expenses to $77 per day for lodging, $46 per day for food and 56.5 cents per mile. The current rate was set in 1891.

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